We at Cars.com are pleased to announce that today, a 2011 Nissan Leaf joined the 2011 Chevrolet Volt in our long-term green-car test fleet. Long before we reviewed the Volt and Leaf last fall, we recognized that any car with a power cord demands more than the customary one- to two-week evaluation period, no matter how thorough our test regimen is.
With these cars, it's not just about the driving, but also the purchasing and ownership experience — especially in terms of performance and range in different conditions, such as varying weather. (Here in Chicago we have all sorts of weather — only sometimes in the same week.)
There are innumerable other questions for which consumers demand answers, many of them tied to cost: How difficult is setting up charging provisions at one's home? How much does that cost? Will we be able to charge the cars in public? Will the cost of operation prove to be an advantage over a gas- or diesel-powered car or a hybrid? Can you get a limited-production vehicle serviced anywhere in the country? What will these things be worth a year or two from now as other EVs hit the market?
We've already begun to answer some of these questions at www.cars.com/green and through our Twitter feed, @CarsComGreen, and we will continue to address the obvious concerns as well as the unexpected, such as what happens when a rodent makes a meal of your Chevy Volt.
We set the wheels in motion close to a year ago to get positioned to be one of the first actual consumers of both cars in the country, especially in a region like ours that's not a launch market for either car and isn't scheduled to be until the end of 2011. For this reason, our Leaf isn't equipped with the optional Winter Package, which is still being developed. In addition to a heated steering wheel and seats, this treatment will add a "battery blanket" — insulation to maintain temperature in the battery pack, which isn't heated or cooled like the Volt's. For this reason, all of our winter observations will have to be taken with this in mind.
Here are the details and costs of our two vehicles:
The Cyber Gray Metallic Volt is loaded, with the Premium Trim Package, a backup camera and front and rear sonar parking assist. With all the options and a destination charge, the $40,280 standard car came to $43,105. After taxes and a one-way registration from our dealership, Martin Chevrolet in Torrance, Calif., it came to $47,392.
Illinois registration and tagging added $241.
Our Blue Ocean Leaf is the higher trim level, the SL, with a list price of $33,720. Options include the quick-charge port, a bumper protection package and floormats. Our out-the-door price at Action Nissan in Nashville, Tenn., was $36,014. That's before paying Illinois taxes of $2,611. Illinois registration and tagging will be the same $241.
The grand total for both comes to a tidy $86,499.
How about that $7,500 federal tax credit? Unfortunately, Cars.com’s specific corporate designation isn’t eligible. As we've reported, the credit must be taken against income, so you get the full amount only if your tax liability is $7,500 or greater.
The Volt and Leaf represent two of the three disparate approaches to electrification that all foreseeable cars will follow. The Volt is a battery-electric car with gas backup, a hybrid vehicle of unprecedented complexity. The Leaf is a battery-only electric, and though it has many of the connectivity and other high-tech features of the Volt, on a basic level it's a remarkably simple design, down to a battery pack with no active heating or cooling.
The third philosophy is represented by plug-in hybrids like the 2012 Toyota Prius, which isn't available yet. It's nearly identical to the non-plug-in, mechanically, and will be similar in operation, so we probably can't justify buying one. If Cars.com management is game, though, that Fisker Karma sure looks interesting...